We’ve been hearing a lot lately about the coming winter. It’s going to be cold, and long, and dark. Keeping warm is going to be a problem, what with the rising costs of everything, especially the fuels that we use to heat our houses. Recently, NBC News devoted several segments to strategies for keeping down heating costs: insulate your attic! Replace your furnace filters! Seal the cracks around your windows! And if you qualify, apply for government help.
These are all excellent suggestions, but at the risk of sounding un-American I will mention my favorite: put on a sweater, and turn down your thermostat.
Could anything be simpler, more instantly warming, more seasonally appropriate, hygge and gemütlich than putting on a cozy, fluffy sweater, hoodie, or fleece? If God had wanted us to live year round in flip-flops, shorts, and sleeveless tops She would have extended the tropics all the way to the poles (that may happen yet, but it won’t be Her doing). Yet it never occurred to the NBC writers to include this age-old technique for defying the chill.
I frequently visit the premises of several well-intentioned, greenish organizations whose thermostats are set at a lower temperature in the summer than in the winter, so that one has to remember to bring a wrap in July and risk offending decorum by stripping in December. Where is the logic in this? Remember how outraged we felt by Richard Nixon’s habit of cranking up the air conditioning in the Oval Office so he could have a fire “for atmosphere” during the sweltering D.C. summers? What makes us feel that, for the first time in the history of humanity, we are entitled to the luxury of chilly rooms in summer and tropical temps in winter? Would it bring the entire country to a stand-still if we kept our thermostats at 68F in winter and 75F in summer?
Turning down the thermostat and putting on a sweater and warm pants, and supplementing them with an afghan when we’re sitting in front of the TV, will do more than save money and fuel. The air will be less dry, and our houseplants, our skin and lungs, and even our wooden furniture will thank us for it. Static electricity will diminish, and our clothes will be less likely to cling in strange and annoying ways. And we will sleep more soundly, since a cool bedroom is more conducive to a good night’s sleep than an overheated one. One additional advantage of lowering the thermostat is its effect on cat behavior: it turns even the most aloof cat into an affectionate lap-warmer from October to May.
It’s not only the weather and the fading light that are making these days seem so dark. I sense a lowering of the spirits, a tide of melancholy sweeping over those around me. I think that this is in large measure due to the hopelessness and helplessness that we feel about so much of what is going on: the politics at home, the war in Ukraine, the misery in so much of the world. But the deepest, most persistent cause of our distress is the fact that we are the first generation to wake up every morning with the threat of planetary catastrophe.
It is well known that when people are caught in the midst of a disaster–floods, fires, or wars—those who survive with the least amount of psychological trauma are the ones who were able to act in some way, whether by rescuing people, carting away rubble, or offering shelter or food. When we turn down the thermostat and put on a sweater, we too are taking action, albeit in a minuscule way, against the seemingly inevitable catastrophe hurtling in our direction. When I sacrifice a bit of my personal comfort to the wellbeing of the community at large, I feel more hopeful and less guilty for my overprivileged way of life, where every imaginable comfort, from light to warmth, water, and food is available at the touch of a button. That winter sweater, with the pulled-out stitches where my cat Telemann has kneaded it, is my banner of solidarity with suffering humanity, and my emblem of compassion for the imperiled earth.